Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daredevil's Centrific Feats #2 - Tricking the Grandmaster

This centrific feat takes place in Giant Size Defenders #3. In it, Daredevil is chosen to participate in a game along with the superhero group of the Defenders, a game in which the fate of the Earth hangs in balance.

And the very moment he decides in his heart to partecipate, following a request from his ex-foe Nighthawk, he's teleported to a strange dimension. He's now a pawn in a game between the elder of the universe known as the Grandmaster, a nearly omnipotent being obsessed with games, and the Prime Mover, an artificial intelligence created by Doctor Doom, who achieved self-awareness and evolved into a godlike-intelligent being capable of calculating the most complex probabilities without any chance of error.

Responding to a challange to a game sent by the Prime Mover across the space, the Grandmaster accepted, and agreed to grant the Prime Mover the power to enslave Earth if he were to lose.
The game would've consisted in a battle between a team of six champions picked by each competitor. The Gamemaster chose the group of the Defenders - composed by Hulk, Doctor Strange, Namor, Nighthawk and the Valkyrie - plus Daredevil.

In particular, this is how the contest would've functioned, as told by the Grandmaster himself to his pawns in his pre-match pep talk:

"Each player [...] will divide his squad into teams of two. Each duo of pawns will be placed upon one of the team worlds we have created [...] to face a team from the opposite side"

among other things, he adds:

"Neither you nor his men will be at any advantage due to the environment. All will find the play areas equally hostile"


Nice. Apart from the fact that Daredevil, teamed with Namor (Valkyrie was already taken, sorry) ends up in a hellish world, hot, rocky and freckled with loud geysers exploding with sulphuric jets of vapor.
"equally hostile" my a$%.
His direct adversary is an amorphous jelly with tentacles, a sort of poor man's Shuma Gorath, who, also thanks to the noise and the heat disorienting his senses, makes short work of him.

Shortly after, Namor, also weakened by the heat and the lack of moisture in that atmosphere, gets beaten to death by a sort of abominable lizard-guy. The round is lost, but thanks to the remaining good guys winning their battles, victory goes to team Grandmaster.

As you can see by the pic above, the hyper-intelligent machine reacts in a manner akin to that of a 9 year-old who loses a game of checkers.
The Grandmaster has won, and so Earth is now safe, right? Not so much:

Confronted with the perspective of eternal slavery under the Grandmaster, the heroes fling themselves at him like one man. But however heroic, their effort is futile. The Grandmaster blows them all away by just thinking about it.
... except for Daredevil who wisely decided not to partecipate to the collective attack. This makes the Elder of the Universe curious:

Daredevil here does a thing he's usually very good at (certainly better than other more powerful heroes): playing smart.
Having understood the obsession of the Grandmaster for games, he challanges him to another one:

I love how DD here lays on the line the Earth "and the moon in addition" while managing to keep such a serious face. But it's not like he has much to lose, at that point. Will the Grandmaster accept?
A transition of panel that seems to last forever, and then...

"The Grandmaster nods"

Still, the Grandmaster is puzzled as to what sort of game is DD proposing. Daredevil snatches a disc-like piece from the ruined carcass of the Prime Mover and explains the game to his adversary:

Yes. Daredevil has just bet the Earth - and the moon, in addition - in a game of heads or tails. The Grandmaster, intrigued by the novelty and the simplicity of the game, invites him to proceed. Still unsure if his unearthly interlocutor has figured out the trick or not, Daredevil flips the disc in the air.


The side DD had called comes up! Humanity is safe. Notice how the Grandmaster takes it with truly admirable sportsmanship, of the kind you seldom see in comic book villains. Really, seems that he couldn't care less about losing a planet that was already his. Oh, and, Doc Strange, you can look now. DD has just saved Earth.

Still a little envious that Daredevil has been the one who saved the day, and not he, the Sorcerer Supreme with the fancy cape and the trés chic spotty gloves, Strange scolds our hero, asking him if it wasn't a little risky to bet the fate of Earth on a fifty-fifty chance. He's probably forgetting that Earth was already lost to begin with and that his alternative plan was "let's suicide-attack the omnipotent guy".

Daredevil reassures that there was no risk at all, and makes his exit, without explaining them the reason. Which is revealed by his thought baloon in the last panel, for those who still didn't get it: he has used his heightened sense of touch to flip the disc so that it would've come up with the side he chose.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Preposterous Plot Points #6 - "I'll dress DD in clothes like mine, too!"

This update to the Preposterous Plot Points series can be considered a direct sequel to the very first entry of the series (sequels seem to be all this big thing nowadays, so I'm adapting), the one regarding the Ox and his stratagem of carrying a spare set of his own clothes so that in the event he meets and takes out a superhero he can dress him with those clothes and somehow frame him for any damage he had caused.

Well, despite the absurdity of it, it worked well the first time, with the cops hauling an unconscious DD, wearing oversized everyday clothes over his own outfit, to the cell of the police station.
In issue #56 of the first volume, Daredevil is in the countryside of Vermont, following the trail of his beloved Karen, when he runs into a supervillain of all respect: a figure with a grotesque mask, riding on the back of a skeletal steed, with his body covered by bandages and glowing intensely with radiation.
The phantasmatic figure calls himself "Death's Head" and greets our hero with a standard gloating villain speech and with a huge fireball, in the attempt to intimidate him from meddling with his plans.
On their second encounter, they fight each other. Daredevil battles the monstrous foe, managing to evade the bolts as best as he can while trying to get close enough to attack, but eventually gets too fatigued to keep the pace:

I don't know why the heck Death's Head here decides to stop using fireballs, pull out a bola and hit DD with that instead. If you ask me, fireballs at close range are clearly superior than an attack with a bludgeoning object. But maybe Roy Thomas had in mind of making the new villain use an exotic weapon like a bola and that was his only chance to stuff it into the issue.
By the way, someone should've told him that bolas don't work that way. Then again, that's actually a "glowing bola", we are told. I don't know how being glowing makes it any special. Maybe they work differently than regular bolas. Who knows.

Yet, senseless as it is, that simple panel with Death's Head striking DD with a weapon that shouldn't be used that way for some reason cracks me up. Maybe it's the words with which Death's Head accompanies the blow:

"Winded already, my friend? Let by glowing bola ease your misery!"

In order to say a phrase like that, either you're completely insane, or completely badass (to the point that you don't care if you sound ridiculous).
Instead of burning the unconscious DD to a crisp and be done with that, the baddie puts in action the Ox's stratagem. He pulls out of nowhere bandages and a mask identical to the one he's wearing. He doesn't use his own mask, it's actually another identical one he was inexplicably carrying with him. I know of motorcyclists who bring with them a spare helmet in case they have to carry a passenger, but this is ridiculous. Especially because we're later told that the mask the guy is wearing is an ancient Aztec artifact. So either he had found another identical one, or he had made a copy of it just for such an instance.

The vestition lasts a couple of panels. I figure that tying up someone like a mummy would require slightly more time, but maybe this villain is particularly experienced in doing it. Apart from that, you gotta love the panel where DD is put the spare mask on his head. It looks like he's conscious and about to give a thumb up, as to say "Okay, I'm ready".
The plan of Death's Head, while sharing similarities with the one used by the Ox, is slightly more sophisticated (or if we want, more idiotic): basically, he's setting DD up for a "suicide by cop". A police patrol in fact, lured by the lights and the noise of the battle, has approached the scene. After having tied up his hands with more bandages, Death's Head puts DD on the saddle of his ghastly horse and sends the horse gallopping towards the policemen, so that they, believing him to be the bad guy, would shoot him.

... I know, don't ask me. I would've just burned him with fireball at point blank. But I'm an engineer, not a supervillain, so what do I know?

A little test. What would you do if you were in such a situation, with a ghostly figure gleaming of an unreal light charging towards you on the back of a skeletal horse, threatening you with a voice that sounds "like something from the grave"?

1) I crap my pants and get out of there as fast as I can;
2) I crap my pants and pass out;
3) I stay there and prepare to shoot the approaching figure with my firearm, discussing with my partner on where it's best to aim in these cases.

Answer 3) is clearly the most unlikely, and yet Death's Head's plan is based entirely on the chance that the cops follow that one course of action. The author is clearly on his side, here, and so the policemen do exactly that.

In any case, the issue ends with a cliffhanger. Will the officers shoot our hero, granting him a most shameful end after he has been knocked unconscious with a glowing bola and then dressed up for halloween? Find out next issue!
And, in the following issue, we find out that the policemen's bullets just graze our unlucky hero, but the horse he's riding doesn't stop. It leaps over the police car and keeps prancing wildly along the countryside, with Daredevil still on its back.

After a while DD manages to free himself from the ropes and get off the restless horse. However, he falls badly and injures his shoulder. The cops, who have been pursuing him all the while (without ceasing to shoot at him, of course), reach him and, seeing him wounded, remove his mask. And, to their surprise, they see...

...that the individual who had charged towards them before wears a Daredevil mask under the Aztec mask, and so they gratuituously assume that he's in fact Daredevil and not anybody else wearing a Daredevil mask, and that they should not do anything to him since Daredevil is a good guy and all.
I wonder what's the standard procedure that police agents in the Marvel universe were supposed to follow whenever they found a person wearing a superhero costume under another disguise. When it was with the Ox, they hauled him into a cell without thinking about it twice. In this case here, they let him get away with it, despite the situation being highly suspicious.
Certainly, if I were a supervillain and learned of this episode here, I'd start committing my crimes while wearing a good guy's mask under the one of my own costume. Can you imagine that?

"No, officer, there has been a misunderstanding! Don't you see the mask? I'm Iron Fist, I'm just keeping an eye on the villains, in incognito! Say, could you give me a lift to 387 Park Avenue?"

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Team-ups ain't what they used to be...

As most comic book readers probably know by now, in the wake of the events occurred in the One More Day storyarc, Spider-man's continuity has been radically altered.
I'll summarize it for those who don't know. Joe Quesada, current Marvel EiC, believing that Spider-man being a married man was aging the character, and thus scaring away potential new, younger readers from the related books, decided that the marriage was to somehow be erased from Spider-man's past history.
They did so by having Peter Parker and his wife Mary Jane Watson strike a deal with Mephisto (a powerful demonic entity of the Marvel Universe), in exchange for the life of Aunt May, who at that time was on the brink of death after having being shot by a sniper sent to kill Peter.

Along with the erasing of the marriage, the new "younger readers-friendly" Spider-man was given, in the same package, a number of other significant continuity changes.
Among these changes, in particular, there was this one:

Absolutely no one knows that Peter Parker is Spider-man. Not Daredevil, not the Avengers, not anyone. His identity is truly secret, although some people seem to recall that Spidey unmasked himself during civil war, no one quite remembers whose face was under the mask.


If you're about to ask, yes. That is retarded. Accepting this and the rest of the continuity implies a significant number of ramificated absurdities and contradictions. But apart from that, why on earth did they feel to introduce this change also? Was Spidey's revelation of his secret identity aging the character as well, like the marriage?
No, it was more likely because, after the big fat event of Spidey's outing (which gave Marvel an enormous mediatic visibility and made sales sky-rocket), they realized that mess had deprived Spidey of a huge chunk of his character and they didn't know what the heck they could do with him anymore. Sure, initially they had him go hunt for the instigator of the sniping, back in his black costume because he had become all angsty (or better yet, to reflect the look of the contemporary Spider-man 3 movie, and attract new readers), but what else could he do after that? Nothing, unless the status quo was to be dramatically (and irreversibly) altered.

Daredevil didn't have this luxury. He didn't have the same visibility when he unmasked, relatively recently, and didn't get a similar plenary indulgence after the party was over. In fact, Matt Murdock's life is still a mess in large part because of his outing, and he's still paying the price for it. But I digress.

All these gratuitous changes to the character's continuity have pretty much had the effect of a reset button. Spider-man started his Brand New Day as a hard luck hero, young, pennyless, with a fixation on mantaining his identity a secret, with a new supporting cast and a new set of bad guys (in addition to the existing ones). Plus, he got to somehow fit in the continuity of the other characters - like Daredevil or the New Avengers - as if nothing had happened. With DD this was particularly weird, because there is really no way to concile their past mutual history - rich with encounters both in and out of costume, team-ups, shared adventures - with the fact that Daredevil doesn't know who Spider-man is (especially considering he has heightened senses).

In addition to this, the all new continuity (I'm struggling not to use the term "new status quo" they have used, because, as anyone who understands some Latin knows, it is an oxymoron) sort of gave the authors the illusion that they could, for the moment, write any Spidey story they wanted without putting much attention to the details. This lead to the poorly written Spider-Man/Matt Murdock interaction seen in Amazing Spider-Man #566, by Guggenheim with art by Phil Jimenez and others.

In this story, a villain captures Peter Parker's roommate, believing him to be Spider-man, and takes him away after having forced him to wear the Spider-Man costume, which she had stolen right before. Peter has to do something about it, but needs another costume to conceal his identity before getting into action.
Instead of just putting a potato sack over his head, he decides to borrow a Daredevil costume from Matt Murdock. Don't ask me why.
He heads to Matt's law office at Hell's Kitchen, calling him on the phone at the same time:

So he calls and Matt Murdock doesn't believe him to be Spider-man and thinks it's a prank call, because, y'see, Peter is a clumsy hard luck hero. Ha ha ha. How funny.
Yeah, funny. Apart from the fact that Matt Murdock is blind and has been training himself for a lifetime to not only recognize voices, but also to detect anomalies in the voice and speech patterns (enabling him to tell if someone is saying the truth or not even when he cannot hear that person's heartbeat, like in this case). You really think that the blind superhero with heightened senses cannot tell the voice of a long time ally from that of a prank calling nut? I say thee nay.
The Superman bit was a nice touch, though.

Peter then tells Matt to look out of the window, so that he can see him - wearing a facial disguise made of webbing - sticking on the outside wall of the building and be convinced that it was actually the real Spider-Man calling him.
I repeat. He's telling a person whom he knows he's blind to look out of his window. According to Guggenheim's twisted logic, not only Matt Murdock doesn't believe the identity of a person he was talking to on the phone (not an unknown guy, a person he should be familiar with), he also has to put his head out of the window to detect the presence of someone outside in the immediate vicinities.
This is ridiculous. Last time I checked his powers were "superhumanly heightened senses and radar sense", not "is a lawyer and wears shirts and red sunglasses when out of costume"

Sure, anything for you, webhead. After all, it's not like I'm currently having a hard time now, with my wife having been driven mad by a maniac and a case of an innocent in death row who will be executed in a handful of days. Oh, also, do you realize how irrelevant is to me the mask you're wearing? I can recognize your odor and track you by scent if I ever wanted. By the way, how is aunt May?

Peter, anyway specifically asks for a costume with eyeholes on the mask. He apparently knows that DD doesn't need those, being blind. And to think that just three panels before he had asked Matt to "look" out of the window...

Wow. What do ya know? Brand New Day Spidey is also somehow aware that there are cartoon series about him with characteristic theme songs, and he's made up a Daredevil variant! I don't know, it's supposed to be a witty/funny thing, I guess.
Anyway, he goes to the police precinct to gather some informations on the kidnapper. He is aware that Spider-man, to the public, is menace, and so he expects to be treated with more respect by the police, since he's posing as Daredevil.

About that, I'm sure everyone at the precinct loves DD, especially considered that Daredevil is unregistered too and that he has beaten two policemen to near death in recent issues, under the effect of Mr Fear's gas. But this is "younger readers-friendly BND Spidey", it's a safe bet to say that 90% of them don't read a book like Daredevil (which is commonly considered to be dark and depressing).

As for the remaining 10%, they can suck it up, just like they did with the rest of the One More Day/Brand New Day mess.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Fighting for Hope. Fighting Without Fear.

"Who is Darediva?" you might ask.
Darediva is the alter ego of a friend of mine, a Daredevil fan. One of the biggest Daredevil fans, undoubtly. A girl without fear, as she likes to call herself.

But if I were to describe her properly, I'd say that Darediva is a fighter.
Yes. And not a "let's assemble, fly up to the big bad alien guy who's threatening the universe and punch him with super-strength"-fighter or even a "I got superpowers through radioactive wastes and now I prowl the streets at night seeking justice"-fighter.
She doesn't fight against ninjas or colourful villains.
She fights in real life. She fights against life, when life is a bitch. Does so by trying to live her own to the fullest. By facing reality with strength and willpower. By believing in true friendship. By giving a smile to those who are around her (yes, because being able to smile in order to make those who are around us happy, even when our life goes so-and-so, is a sign of strength in itself, in a society that is becoming more and more selfish).

Alice - this her real name - has put up Team Darediva to participate to the VisionWalk 2008 in Memphis, TN. It is an event promoted by Foundation Fighting Blindness, a non-profit organization raising funds for research on retinal diseases that lead to blindness (such as Stargardt's, Usher's Syndrome, or the one she's affected by, macular degeneration).
If you want to help research on these diseases, please, support Team Darediva by donating a minimum of $25 on her visionwalk page. The goal is to reach at least 500$. It is only with your contribution that this will be attainable.

Vision Walk

Foundation Fighting Blindness

Darediva's blog

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"Chi è Darediva?" mi si potrebbe chiedere.
Darediva è il nickname di una mia amica, una fan di Daredevil. Forse una delle più grandi fan di Daredevil (anche in senso cronologico, visto che leggeva già il fumetto quando io ancora avevo i pannolini).
Darediva è una che combatte.
E non "combattere" nel senso "Pigliamo a pugni con la superforza il despota intergalattico che minaccia l'universo" o "Ho acquisito i superpoteri dalle scorie radioattive e di notte veglio sulla città proteggendo i deboli dai criminali".
No. Qui parliamo della vera lotta. Quella contro la vita, quando la vita è una mignotta.
Quella lotta che si combatte giorno per giorno. Lei la affronta a viso aperto, con forza di volontà e determinazione. Senza abbattersi, ma cercando sempre di sorridere a chi le sta accanto (e in una società come la nostra, che sta diventando sempre più egoista, sorridere a chi ci sta accanto mentre si è in mezzo alle avversità è una dimostrazione di forza morale enorme).

Alice - questo il suo nome - ha messo su il Team Darediva per partecipare a VisionWalk 2008. L'evento si svolgerà a Memphis, Tennessee, ed è sponsorizzato dalla Foundation Fighting Blindness, un'organizzazione no-profit impegnata nella raccolta di fondi per la lotta alle malattie degenerative della retina, come la sindrome di Usher o la degenerazione maculare, da cui lei stessa è affetta.
Se vuoi aiutare Alice e unirti nella lotta a queste terribili malattie, puoi sostenere il Team Darediva, visitando la relativa pagina web e donando un minimo di 25 dollari (circa 16,5 euro). L'obiettivo è raccogliere almeno 500 dollari. Il tuo contributo è molto importante.

Vision Walk

Foundation Fighting Blindness

Blog di Darediva